Blocking Twitter is not the solution

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other websites are a means of communication that can either eliminate extremism or help spread it

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Many terrorism experts believe they have pinpointed the source of the problem, saying social media networks are to blame because they play a hand in inciting extremism and recruiting militants. Some experts have even called for blocking these sites in order to starve ISIS and its ilk, while considering Twitter to be their secret and direct means of communicating with others.

Despite the rush of calls to shut down Twitter and other social media sites, this is not an ideal solution because alternative platforms will simply replace them. It’s also not fair to punish millions of ordinary users in order to get rid of the thousands of militants or militant supporters online. It’s a known fact that the world is battling against extremist ideologies, and therefore it’s understandable that this sometimes requires giving up our privacy and freedom at times. However, even the necessities of war aren’t enough reason to restrain the masses just because the problem was not dealt with from another angle. Reform education, reform “dawah” (the preaching of Islam) and spread Islam’s real and beautiful values, then you’d realize that extremist concepts are an exception and are actually rejected. If such steps are implemented, moderation would become a real ideological movement that everyone adopts.

Battling the root of the problem

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other websites are a means of communication that can either eliminate extremism or help spread it. What distinguishes extremists is that they are an active and determined party with a cause which they believe is righteous. They are capable of adapting to technological changes. They exploit religious communities, which they don’t belong to, and try to lure people into their extremist ideologies. There are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of militants who spend hours on these websites surfing them in search of lost, angry or curious youths, having conversations to “guide them” to jihadist solutions and then recruit them as soldiers who await orders.

I believe that without a comprehensive plan to combat extremism - as an ideology and as a practice - and everything that surrounds it or nurtures it, eliminating it will be impossible. Proof of this is seen in al-Qaeda, an organization that exploited TV broadcasts and Internet chatrooms. ISIS kept up with modern day advancement by using social media. The problem is in both the ideology and the means.

The development of jihadist movements shows how they have moved on from being incubators to being present in the streets and battlefields. In Afghanistan, foreign fighters who refused to return to their countries decided to establish al-Qaeda and although there was only a few hundred of them, marketing their cause through television and Internet platforms helped them swell to around 2,000 fighters, spreading terror across the world, from Southeast Asia to New York and Washington.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other websites are a means of communication that can either eliminate extremism or help spread it.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

After eliminating most al-Qaeda leaders and besieging them in Afghanistan and Iraq and aborting many of their operations, many thought the organization had diminished, but then the ISIS emerged. Now, the surprise is that the number of armed ISIS fighters is around 70,000 and they’re deployed in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. Social media is their interactive arena. The chronology of the rise and fall of organized terrorism and its resurgence prove that the problem is deep-rooted and that it’s not possible to besiege terrorism without addressing the root problem. Blocking some tools, like the Internet, Twitter and Facebook is not the solution.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 12, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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